Novelist Judith Freeman gave a reading in Salt Lake last week. Born in Utah to a large Mormon family, married right after high school graduation, a mother at 18, Judith seemed set on the typical path for Mormon women of her era—stay-at-home-mom with a big family. Instead, she found herself divorced at age 32, supporting herself and child with a series of entry-level jobs. A few years later, her son chose to live with his father and Judith moved to LA and became a writer.
I find her story fascinating because the more common course for a divorced Mormon woman is to repent of real or imagined trespasses and pray for a good man to take her to the temple. Mormons, especially women, often sacrifice goals and dreams in this life in hopes of qualifying for a next life—a marvelous concept—but supported by no empirical evidence.
Judith Freeman’s fulfilling life contrasts with that of Jenny, a young woman I met last summer. A have-to marriage at age 17 and years of berating from herself and others for her “transgression,” have shackled Jenny with sadness and shame which more children—legally conceived—and a temple sealing have not healed.
Had I the voice of an angel, I would tell Mormon youth, especially girls who carry the brunt of stigma for sexual experience, that life isn’t over when you have to suffer the consequences of immature choices and actions. Violating social and church rules of conduct does not make a person bad or undeserving of God’s love or of a better future. What harms people more than “sin” is being beaten up for stepping off the straight and narrow. God is better than that.